In 2003, the trio of Olusegun Obasanjo, Thabo Mbeki and John Kuffor of Nigeria, South Africa and Ghana respectively prevailed upon Charles Taylor to step down as the Liberian President. We can not forget the back up given by Abdulsalam Abubakar and Mr. Chambas the Executive Secretary of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The heating up of the polity in Liberia as a result of the years of civil war polarized the nation, to a point of near collapse.
Taylor represents many things to so many people; criminal, hero, warlord, war monger, mentor, freedom fighter, traitor, manipulator, rebel leader, diamond smuggler, gun runner e.t.c. For several people, Taylor is synonymous to the Liberian war as well as the inability to achieve a cease fire agreement between or among the warring factions. The challenge at that point in time was how to achieve a Liberia without Taylor. It is within this context that we can appreciate the individual and collective roles played by these African leaders in making sure Taylor left Liberia.
The Nigerian President who was the “Chief of Party” in the whole process was quick to state in clear terms that Nigeria can not be harassed by any body for whatsoever reason as far as the Taylor issue was concerned. For some of us, that was a bold and courageous move by an African leader. The implication is that; we have come of age and that; the problems of Africa can be handled by Africans. The Taylor issue is no exception.
For most onlookers, Obasanjo is a friend of Taylor and the people of Liberia, considering the way and manner the whole process of finding a common ground for granting asylum to Taylor was concluded. Of importance also is the fact that Taylor’s acceptance to leave Liberia might be part of a deal struck by the leaders. If Taylor had not stepped down as well as leave Liberia, there would have been no peace in Liberia today. Thus he stated; I believe strongly that Taylor was not force to leave Liberia. This he confirmed when he said; “if I were the problem, which I know you know I am not, I would step aside…I would become the sacrificial lamb, I would become the whipping boy that you should live”. The question that really beg for an answer remains; is the arrest of Taylor a violation of a peace accord the Obasanjo led trouble shooters signed with him?
As a matter of fact there are several methodological and hypothetical questions that must be raised at this point in time; to help in our appreciation of the Taylor saga as well as its implication for the security and stability of the fragile democracy in Liberia, the West African sub-region and the continent in general. Was there a deal struck between Taylor and the trio of Obasanjo, Mbeki and Kuffor, which led to his stepping down as President of Liberia? Under what condition was an asylum granted him in Nigeria? Was there any form of restriction on Taylor in the form of house arrest during Taylor’s stay in Nigeria? Since the African Union was instrumental to Taylor’s exit from Liberia, what role did the organization play in facilitating his arrest as well as his subsequent handover to the United Nations officials to face war crimes tribunal on charges of war against humanity?
For some of us, there is no denying the fact that Taylor should face a war crime tribunal in view of his inglorious role in sparking up violent conflict in Liberia as well as supporting rebels in Sierra Leone leading to a civil war which lasted for over ten years. In fact Taylor senselessly ordered the execution of thousands of people, destruction of properties, displaced as well as rendered many a people permanently disabled in and outside of Liberia. Thus some of the charges against him include; backing Sierra Leone rebels including fighting children (child soldiers), murder, gun running and other crimes against humanity among others.
In his reaction to insinuations of complicity as a result of the escape of Charles Taylor from Nigeria Obasanjo argued; “It is important to note that Taylor is neither a friend of the President (Olusegun Obasanjo) of Nigeria nor that of its people”. It is confusing to hear Obasanjo making such a statement at this point in time. When he told the world that he can not be harassed by anyone as far as his decision to grant Taylor asylum to Nigeria is concern. Amidst mixed reaction across the length and breadth of Nigeria and the international community on such a decision Obasanjo was adamant. When the chips were down the same Obasanjo was the first to say Taylor has never been his friend. The question Obasanjo must answer at this point in time is; on what capacity did he negotiate with Taylor to leave Liberia as well as grant him asylum in Nigeria? For some of us, knowing Obasanjo for who he is and what he can do, he can sacrifice anything and anybody to get what he wants. For the first time, we saw Obasanjo calm and composed in Washington when he visited his emperor George Bush. There is no big deal sacrificing Taylor for third term. After all, sacrifices must be made to get something tangible most important if it has to do with naked power. We understand why Obasanjo refused to give a Yes or No answer when he was asked if he is interested in a third term by the American journalists.
The fact still remains that Taylor could not have left or escaped from Nigeria without being given a lee way to do that. The impression in his face at the time he was caught as well as arrested confirmed that he was “betrayed” by some “trusted” friends. Our minds are quick to go back to 2003 when Obasanjo and Taylor hugged each other under the watchful eyes of the world when the deal sealed for his exit from Liberia. Both men claim to be serious and committed born again Christians if I am not mistaken. They must have something in common with Judas Iscariot and his master and Saviour, where the same hug was used to show friendship and solidarity as well as betrayal. We wait for the day Obasanjo will read the funeral oration of Taylor as typical of him. That is the day Taylor will be a saint for the world as will be presented by “our beloved” Obasanjo. We remember vividly the oration at the funeral of Chief Sunday Afolabi one of his bosom friends, whom he sacked as Minister on the grounds of “corruption”? Balarabe Musa was quite succinct on the Taylor saga in his reaction; “it was obvious that there was a conspiracy between Nigeria and America to bring Taylor to Nigeria in the first place. It is the same conspiracy that has played itself out with Taylor’s attempted escape and his subsequent arrest”.
Indeed, Taylor must be lamenting now. Was he short-changed or betrayed? Was this what he bargained for when Obasanjo, Mbeki and Kuffor struck a deal with him? Is the game really up? Who will tell my story, me or someone else? I must be quick to say the game is up for Taylor. Someone will have to tell his story someday. That is the price he has to pay for miscalculating. The strategist that he is, he was unable to read the hand writings on the wall.
In conclusion, the issue at stake goes beyond a character called Taylor standing trial on charges of war crime in Sierra Leone or The Hague. He must be brought to justice as far as the charges against him are concerned. It will no doubt serve as a deterrent to other Taylors out there. Of serious importance is the fact that individual and group emotions and interest must not subvert or take precedent over the rule of law. The Taylor issue should not be judged according to the whims and caprices of the United States as well as the machinations of other characters out there. I must be quick to also state that a lot of our leaders are as guilty of war crime as Taylor himself. The number of lives and properties lost as a result of unpopular policies and the series of avoidable conflicts and violence we have experienced are all a function of the insensitivity of our leaders to the yearnings, aspirations as well as expectations of the people. If our leaders can not guarantee the greatest happiness of the greatest number, they are as well guilty of war crimes.
Author: Chris Kwaja